By Peter Hemming
Discipline and responsibility have always been a part of Barry Phillips’ life. Barry was born at Fort Benning, Georgia. From there, he and his mother, Gloria, and six siblings traveled the country, following their father from one post to another before settling in Paris, Tennessee. “It was difficult being the new kid in school every three years,” confesses Barry. “But learning to get along with kids with diverse backgrounds prepared me for what I do today.”
Barry’s dad, Buck, an artillery first sergeant and stiff disciplinarian, ran the Phillips home like a barracks. “There were always daily assignments for us kids.” Barry filled the rest of his time playing tennis and fishing in local lakes.
Enlisting in the Navy was how Barry met the man who would make the greatest impact on his life. While at Fort Mead, Maryland, Senior Chief Bill Spencer urged the young man to go to college. “A senior chief practically walks on water,” Barry explained. “Yet he cared and it showed.” After eight years in the Navy, Barry earned a degree in criminal justice from the University of Tennessee. But a year and a half of law school brought Barry to the conclusion that he didn’t want to be a lawyer.
Back in the Navy for OCS, Barry was led to a master’s in human resources. Not always landlocked, ship duty included a minor Cold War incident off the Russian coast in 1988. Claiming the three-mile limit as an international right of passage, the destroyer USS Caron was deliberately rammed by a Russian frigate claiming 12 miles. Fortunately, each captain got their points across with little damage done and the two ships parted.
As a cryptologist aboard the cruiser USS Josefus Daniels, Barry and his team would intercept cell phone calls and faxes from drug dealers off the coast of Columbia. Cocaine- and marijuana-loaded drug planes would be tracked and later intercepted by the DEA.
Reassigned to Monterey, Barry was in charge of the Navy’s detachment of students and staff at the Defense Language Institute. Nearing the end of his enlistment, Lieutenant Commander Phillips retired in 1999 and took a job as the HR Director for the Housing Authority of Monterey County. But something was missing.
Barry learned about First Tee, a character development program for kids using the sport of golf, and began volunteering three days per week. “It really resonated in me,” admits Barry. On the side, he wrote grants to the USGA and local charities. When an opening came up as Executive Director, Barry accepted the job. First Tee started in Jacksonville, Florida in 2004 and is sponsored by the PGA, the Masters, and Shell Oil Corporation. The Salinas chapter began in January 2005, and is adjacent to a 9-hole golf course behind CreekBridge Village. There were 56 kids in the program then. Now, over 4,000 come through every two week period. While on the edge of gang territories, there has not been a single violent incident. “We are considered a safe haven and they respect it.” Located in the Salinas school district, First Tee serves Monterey County.
There are nine core values of First Tee: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment. “At the end of every class, we teach that every golf skill has a life skill.” The success rate has been remarkable. Barry says with pride: “Teachers tell us children’s grades are better and parents report their attitudes at home improve.”
Recently married, Barry spends his free time with his wife, Helen Chau, co-owner of an internet firm, and his stepson, Max. “Golf is a lot like life,” Barry says philosophically. “There are no referees.”